In October–November 2010 and July 2011, a salvage excavation took place at Zur Yizhaq (Permit Nos. A-6037, A-6231; map refs. 2003–7/6826–9), prior to the construction of a second neighborhood in the community settlement. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Mivnei Ta‘asiya (Industrial Buildings Company Ltd), was directed by U. ‘Ad, with the assistance of D. Masarwa and A. Segal (area administration and inspection), R. Mishayev, M. Kahan, A. Hajian and M. Konin (surveying and drafting), A. Peretz (field photography), Sky View (aerial photography), Y. Amrani, Y. Lavan and E. Bachar (administration), L. Barda, A. Dagot and H. Ben-Ari (GPS), P. Gendelman (pottery identification), O. Marder (prehistoric survey), Y. Nagar and V. Eshed (physical anthropology), as well as A. ‘Azab, A. Re’em, P. Spivak, Y. Kornfeld and R. Toueg from the Israel Antiquities Authority Central District.
The excavation area was located south of the town of Taiyiba, on the western slope of a spur, on which the community settlement of Zur Natan is built, and north of its access road. The site lay west of the ancient site of Horbat Migdal (Kh. al-Majdal; also called Sheikh Musharaf, after the sheikh’s tomb standing here; Fig. 1), a multi-period settlement with remains dating from the Chalcolithic to the Ottoman periods (
Ayalon, Neidinger and Matthews 1997; Ayalon 2002; Masarwa 2016; and further references to other excavations there). In surveys and excavations carried out in the vicinity, ancient remains were found, dating mainly from the Iron Age to the Byzantine period (Ayalon, Qidron and Sharvit 1988–1989; Torgë 2009; Sergey, Conn and Oz 2013, and see further references there; Masarwa 2016;
Permit No. A-8256). Excavations carried out on the central lower part of the spur’s western slope, prior to the construction of the western neighborhoods of Zur Yizhaq, exposed Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites (
Marder et al. 2007; Dagan 2010), as well as Early Bronze Age caves, and agricultural installations, quarries and tombs from the Roman and Byzantine periods (Sion, Haiman and Artzi 2008; Dagan 2010; ’Azab 2014).
The excavation took place in the area to the east of the excavations carried out by Sion and Dagan, south of the houses and olive groves of Taiyiba, and west of Horbat Migdal. About 130 features were documented, including building remains, roads, winepresses, an olive press, two silos, field presses, quarries, limekilns, agricultural terraces, partition and boundary walls, stone-clearance heaps, tombs, burial caves, cisterns, reservoirs and other installations. These elements predominantly dated to the Roman and Byzantine periods, with a few dating to the Middle Bronze and Iron Ages, and to the Persian periods.
Roads. Two roads were discovered. One road (F419; exposed length c. 120 m, width 2.5–3.0 m), was built on an approximate east–west axis, parallel to the modern road leading to Zur Natan. The road, bounded on both sides by walls built of large stones, was found in a very damaged state. At its eastern end, part of another road (F50; Fig. 2) was found, branching off northwards, and continuing beyond the excavation limits in the direction of the center of Taiyiba. A few segments of this road, bounded on both sides by walls built of roughly worked stones, were uncovered (total length c. 110 m, width 2–3 m).
Buildings. In the southeastern area of the excavation, a Byzantine period building (F356; Fig. 3) was uncovered next to Road 419, the southern wall of the building being the northern wall of the road. The extant remains indicate that the building was composed of two wings, the eastern wing having at least two rooms. The building was damaged by a limekiln that was built into it after it fell out of use, and the stones of the building’s walls and floors were probably exploited as raw material for the kiln. Subsequently, the structure and the limekiln were covered over by a stone heap from fieldstone clearance activities. Another building (F334) was discovered in the central part of the excavation area. It was damaged due to its proximity to the surface, its extant remains indicating that it had at least two rooms.
Winepresses. Five rock-hewn winepresses were discovered, two of which were complex and three simple. The large complex winepress (F406; Fig. 4) had a mosaic treading floor, in the center of which was a large pit created by the robbing of the base stone of the screw-base. To the west of the treading surface, there was a settling basin and a collecting vat, both exhibiting mosaic floors and walls coated with a hydraulic plaster layer. Steps cut in the western wall descended into the collecting vat. To the north and east of the treading floor were four upper treading floors, two of which were damaged by rock-hewing activities after the winepress fell out of use. The finds retrieved in and around the winepress, date it to the Byzantine period. The simple winepresses were cut into the nari rock, and each had a square treading floor slightly sloping down to a collecting vat (Fig. 5). In one of the winepresses (F485), the collecting vat had a white mosaic floor.
Olive oil press and bodedot. A round crushing stone was found (diam. 1.9 m; Fig. 6) adjacent and west of Winepress 406. Two bodedot, simple rock-cut field presses for oil or wine, were also exposed, each comprising two adjacent depressions connected by a channel. The upper depressions were larger and shallower than the lower deeper depressions.
Silos. In the northern and central area of the excavation, two silos were found hewn into the hard nari rock. They had a small, circular opening, which could be closed and sealed, and which opened out into a larger space (diam. 1.5–2.0 m, depth 2.0–2.5 m).
Quarries. About 75 quarries were surveyed and excavated throughout the excavation area. These may be added to 121 quarries previously documented and excavated (Dagan 2010). The quarries varied in size, from small quarries from which only three or four stone blocks had been cut, to large ones covering an extensive area (375 sq m; Fig. 7). Quarries from which golal tomb stones (F490; Fig. 8), and round oil pressing and wine-pressing stones had been cut, were also discovered. It is not clear whether the stones hewn in these quarries were intended only for construction at Kh. el-Majdal and its vicinity, or whether they were also produced to be traded.
Limekilns. Limekilns were exposed at three spots where limestone was at hand, in Building 356 and next to the two complex winepresses. The kilns were round, their lower part was rock-cut and partially lined with stones, and their upper part was built of fieldstones (Limekilns 356, 482, diam. c. 3 m, depth over 7.3 m; see Fig. 3).
Stone-clearance heaps. In the middle of the agricultural plots, concentrations (diam. 7–10 m; max. height 1 m) of large and medium-size stones collected from the agricultural plots were found, mostly piled up on bedrock surfaces and rock outcrops. A delimiting wall was uncovered in one of the heaps (F426).
Terrace walls. Retaining walls, predominantly exposed in the northeastern part of the excavation area, alongside Road 50, created fairly narrow cultivation terraces (width 2–4 m) on the slopes. The walls, mostly set on bedrock steps, were built carelessly of large and medium-size stones for two to five courses.
Dividing and boundary walls. These walls, uncovered running the length and breadth of the flattish land, were intended to delimit plots. The walls were built of large fieldstones, some partially worked, set at small intervals along fairly straight lines. The walls with their foundations set on the bedrock, stood for two courses. One wall (W133) was traced for 125 m, along an approximately north–south direction.
Cupmarks. At two spots, shallow, oval cupmarks were found hewn in the bedrock surface (length c. 0.3 m, width c. 0.2 m, max. depth 7 cm).
Burial caves and tombs. Six burial caves were discovered, two of which (F405, F421) were badly damaged having subsequently served as cisterns. A burial cave complex, with a large hewn courtyard accessed by a broad staircase (F431; Fig. 9) was uncovered. An entrance in the plastered walled courtyard, led into two burial caves, via low openings that were blocked with golal sealing stones—a round one in the eastern cave, and a rectangular one in the northern cave. The tombs were not excavated for fear that the ceilings would collapse. One of the burial complexes (F330) had a large courtyard in the front, leading into a burial cave in which six loculi were hewn. In the southern part of the interior, a fine ashlar wall, whose function was not evident, was constructed (Fig. 10). The finds retrieved in the courtyard and the cave indicate that it was used in the first and second centuries CE. Two small burial caves, each containing a single burial bench, were hewn in a rock terrace. In the southwestern area of the excavation, two arcosolia tombs, comprising a rectangular rock-cutting, flanked on either side by a burial trough and overlain by a rock-hewn vault, were documented.
Cisterns and reservoirs. In the survey and the excavation, about 17 cisterns were found, some hewn into burial caves. An interesting feature in many of the cisterns uncovered in the excavation, as well as in the excavations carried out by Y. Dagan, was the presence of two, or even three, openings. Two large, deep reservoirs were uncovered in the southeastern (F402) and northeastern (F335) areas of the excavation (Fig. 11). Their walls were coated with gray hydraulic plaster, and they were filled with many stones and soil, containing sherds from the first–second centuries CE. Reservoir 402 was accessed by a staircase (width c. 2 m) that was hewn in its western and northern sides. The reservoir fell out of use in the Byzantine period, and a wall (terrace wall?) was built on top of the fill that blocked it. In Reservoir 335, a staircase composed of four steps (width 1.0–1.2 m), led down to a niche hewn in the eastern wall.
The excavation revealed an additional part of the agricultural hinterland of Ḥorbat Migdal. As in the previous excavations, the large number of quarries is prominent, probably due to the good quality of the stone. The number of winepresses is noteworthy, some of which were very large and complex (a total of three complex winepresses, including the winepresses excavated by Y. Dagan). The winepresses indicate that there was some kind of industrial complex here, specializing in the manufacture of wine. The exposure of an olive oil press, along with the winepresses, reflects intensive agricultural activities focusing on the processing of grapes and olives (indeed, olive trees are cultivated in this area to this day). Interestingly, the activity at the site declined significantly in the Early Islamic period, following the Muslim conquest in c. 640 CE. The information retrieved in the excavation, together with data from the surveys and previous excavations at the site, permit a reliable reconstruction of the agricultural and industrial activity in the area of the spur, on the eastern part of which Ḥorbat Migdal is located, from the Neolithic period to the Early Islamic period.
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